By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
The non-stop cavalcade of zombie movies, like the barrage of superhero films that have filled our screens over the past decade, can certainly put audiences in a permanent state of fatigue, but even if you feel like you’ve had your fill of the cinematic undead, please don’t dismiss One Cut of the Dead, one of the most inventive, joyous, and flat-out entertaining efforts to come our way in a long time. The film centres on the production of an ultra-low budget horror flick, where a tense moment is occurring between characters played by Kazuaki Kamiya (Kazuaki Nagaya) and Aika Matsumoto (Yuzuki Akiyama).
Kazuaki has turned into a zombie, and Aika is tearfully trying to fend him off. ‘Cut’ is soon yelled, and director Takayuki Higurashi (Takayuki Hamatsu) is soon in Aika’s face, screaming his displeasure at her supposedly unconvincing performance, and has already put the actors through their paces forty-two times. The reason why Takayuki has become so psychotic, is that he has promised producers Shinichiro (Shinichiro Osawa) and Yoshiko (Yoshiko Takehara) that he will shoot the entire film in one long take for its TV broadcast.
Helping behind the scenes is Harumi (Harumi Syuhama), who retired from acting to become a make-up artist, and she too is starting to worry about the director’s state of mind. When the location’s eerie history is revealed, the cast and crew find themselves suddenly under siege by real-life zombies, but instead of immediately shutting the production down and making a run for it, the egomaniacal film-maker decides to incorporate it into the film, turning a troubled shoot into something far more dangerous. This is all people need to know, as what follows is truly something to behold, and Shinichiro Ueda, incredibly making his feature film debut here, writes and directs with supreme confidence, unafraid of tackling the myriad of directions his ingenious script takes.
The story’s chain of events is so intricately structured, that if even one part didn’t work, the whole endeavour would have collapsed. The cast of unknowns are all superb, committing to Ueda’s vision completely, and hit their marks to perfection, whether it is dealing with one revelation after another, or delivering what are plentiful laugh-out-loud moments. It really is an ensemble effort. The technical crew also contribute greatly to the film’s overall effect, for what must have been an intense, fast-paced shoot (apparently it cost around U.S.$25,000).
One Cut of the Dead has been a film festival favourite, even receiving standing ovations at some events. It is frustrating that a movie as terrific as this will largely go under the radar with general audiences, but if it is showing at a cinema near you (I know it is coming up at the Japanese Film Festival in Melbourne, Australia), then please, race out and see it as quickly as you can, as you will experience one of the smartest, funniest, and most surprising films of the year.